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YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL - · PDF file Your God Is Too Small J.B.Phillips No one is ever really at ease in facing what we call “life” and “death” without a religious faith. The

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  • Your God Is Too Small


    No one is ever really at ease in facing what we call “life” and “death” without a

    religious faith. The trouble with many people today is that they have not found

    a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown

    in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the

    point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas

    of God have remained largely static.

    It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that

    exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to

    deny his own experience of life. If, by a great effort of will, he does do this he

    will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of

    his faith. And it will always be by such an effort that he either worships or

    serves a God who is really too small to command his adult loyalty and co-


    It often appears to those outside the Churches that this is precisely the

    attitude of Christian people. If they are not strenuously defending an outgrown

    conception of God, then they are cherishing a hothouse God who could only

    exist between the pages of the Bible or inside the four walls of a Church.

    Therefore to join in with the worship of a Church would be to become a party

    to a piece of mass-hypocrisy and to buy a sense of security at the price of the

    sense of truth, and many men of goodwill will not consent to such a


    It cannot be denied that there is a little truth in this criticism. There are

    undoubtedly professing Christians with childish conceptions of God which

    could not stand up to the winds of real life for five minutes. But Christians are

  • Your God is Too Small 2

    by no means always unintelligent, naive, or immature. Many of them hold a

    faith in God that has been both purged and developed by the strains and

    perplexities of modern times, as well as by a small but by no means negligible

    direct experience of God Himself. They have seen enough to know that God is

    immeasurably “bigger” than our forefathers imagined, and modern scientific

    discovery only confirms their belief that man has only just begun to

    comprehend the incredibly complex Being who is behind what we call “life.”

    Many men and women today are living, often with inner dissatisfaction,

    without any faith in God at all. This is not because they are particularly wicked

    or selfish or, as the old-fashioned would say, “godless,” but because they

    have not found with their adult minds a God big enough to “account for” life,

    big enough to “fit in with” the new scientific age, big enough to command their

    highest admiration and respect, and consequently their willing co-operation.

    It is the purpose of this book to attempt two things: first to expose the

    inadequate conceptions of God which still linger unconsciously in many minds,

    and which prevent our catching a glimpse of the true God; and secondly to

    suggest ways in which we can find the real God for ourselves. If it is true that

    there is Someone in charge of the whole mystery of life and death, we can

    hardly expect to escape a sense of futility and frustration until we begin to see

    what He is like and what His purposes are.

    Unreal Gods


    To many people, conscience is almost all that they have by way of knowledge

    of God. This still, small voice which makes them feel guilty and unhappy

    before, during, or after doing something wrong, is God speaking to them. It is

    this which, to some extent at least, controls their conduct. It is this which

    impels them to shoulder the irksome duty and choose the harder path. Now no

  • Your God is Too Small 3

    serious advocate of a real adult religion would deny the function of

    conscience, or deny that its voice may at least give some inkling of the moral

    order that lies behind the obvious world in which we live. Yet to make

    conscience into God is a highly dangerous thing to do. For one thing, as we

    shall see in a moment, conscience is by no means an infallible guide; and for

    another it is extremely unlikely that we shall ever be moved to worship, love,

    and serve a nagging inner voice that at worst spoils our pleasure and at best

    keeps us rather negatively on the path of virtue.

    Conscience can be so easily perverted or morbidly developed in the sensitive

    person, and so easily ignored and silenced by the insensitive, that it makes a

    very unsatisfactory god. For while it is probably true that every normal person

    has an embryo moral sense by which he can distinguish right from wrong, the

    development, non-development, or perversion of that sense is largely a

    question of upbringing, training, and propaganda.

    As an example of the first, we may suppose a child to be brought up by

    extremely strict vegetarian parents. If the child, now grown adolescent,

    attempts to eat meat, he will in all probability suffer an extremely bad attack of

    “conscience.” If he is brought up to regard certain legitimate pleasures as

    “worldly” and reprehensible, he will similarly suffer pangs of conscience if he

    seeks the forbidden springs of recreation. The voice will no doubt sound like

    the voice of God; but it is only the voice of the early upbringing which has

    conditioned his moral sense.

    As an example of the second influence on the moral sense, we may take a

    “sportsman” who has been trained from his youth that it is “wrong” to shoot a

    sitting bird. Should he do so, even accidentally, he will undoubtedly feel a

    sense of shame and wrong-doing; though to shoot a bird flying twenty yards in

    front of the muzzle of his gun will not produce any sense of guilt. His

    conscience has been artificially trained, and it is thus that “taboos” are

    maintained among the civilized and uncivilized alike.

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    Any sport, and indeed many professions, can provide abundant instances of

    the moral sense trained to feel that certain things are “not done.” The feeling

    of guilt and failure produced by doing the forbidden thing may be quite false,

    and is in many cases quite disproportionate to the actual moral wrong, if

    indeed there be any. As an example of the third way in which the moral sense

    may be conditioned, we may take the way in which public propaganda

    influenced those of sensitive conscience during the last world war. It was

    perfectly possible for an extreme sense of guilt to be aroused if paper were

    burned (because propaganda had said that it should be salvaged), or if a

    journey by rail were undertaken (did not propaganda shout on every hand, “Is

    your journey really necessary?”).

    In Nazi Germany, of course, propaganda as a weapon to pervert the moral

    sense became a fine art. It soon seemed, for example, a positive duty to hate

    the Jews, and a good Nazi would doubtless have suffered pangs of

    conscience if he had been kind to one of the despised race.

    These examples may be enough to show the unwisdom of calling conscience,

    God. Obviously this invaluable moral sense can be rightly trained and even

    rightly influenced by propaganda, provided we can be sure what we mean by

    right. But to define that word we need to discover God—for without God, no

    one has any authority to advance in support of his ideas of “right,” except his

    own moral sense. Unless there is a God by whom “right” and “wrong” can be

    reliably assessed, moral judgments can be no more than opinion, influenced

    by upbringing. training, and propaganda.

    In this country of England, centuries of Christian tradition have so permeated

    our life that we forget how our moral sense has been conditioned by a dilute,

    but genuine, Christianity. Our attitude toward women and children, toward the

    weak and helpless, or toward animals, for instance, is not nearly so “innate”

    as we think. It was a shock to many men of our armed forces who were

  • Your God is Too Small 5

    stationed abroad during the last war to discover how poor and blind was the

    moral sense in these directions in countries which had no Christian tradition.

    No doubt many put this down to the fact that the inhabitants of these countries

    had the misfortune not to be English! It would be truer to say that they had

    had the misfortune not to have had their moral sense stimulated and

    developed by Christian upbringing, training, and propaganda.

    Many moralists, both Christian and non-Christian, have pointed

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